As I mentioned last week, we just finished our first rack and returns of the 2013 vintage- a process the wine will undergo 2 to 8 more times during its time in barrel. This time in barrel is where the true magic begins through what we call the aging process.
WINE AGING- GOOD! PEOPLE AGING-MEH…
Ok, so the magic I refer to is mainly chemistry- which I don’t find particularly magical, more migraine-producing-so I will try to keep some of the magic and minimize the chemistry. It all starts with that giver of life, the all-important element of oxygen.
Being that a barrel is not a hermetically sealed container, oxygen seeps into the barrels at a rate of 2-5 ml/L per year- depending on the thickness and type of wood used for the barrel. Oxygen is also available to the wine in the small amount of air-space that occurs between the opening of the barrel and the surface of the wine or the “ullage” (they have a name for everything). This ingress of oxygen causes changes in color, bouquet, structure and stability in the wine. Chemistry alert! There are many different, specific, complex reactions that occur when oxygen is exposed to the wine (uh oh, I feel a headache coming on…). Magic alert! The oxygen combines with oxidizable and reducing substances already in the wine resulting in the color of the wine to stabilize, the bouquet to bloom, and the phenolic components to intensify and mature. Phew, I can put away the Advil away now.
This is just the basic reaction- your cooperage ultimately affects how these reactions play out. Each forest from where the oak to make the barrels comes from (if you want more info on this, I did a post about a year ago on barrels) will give its own flavor and supporting tannin components. Grain density will dictate how much interaction there will be with oxygen. All of these variables along with size of the barrels, toasting will all have different impacts on the wine.
For Naggiar specifically, we age all of our reds in barrels, both large format (130-150 gallons to 540 gallons) and the standard 60 gallon barrel. We use different sized barrels, different coopers, different forests, different grain types, and different toast levels for different varietals and programs (that must be a record for the use of the word different in one sentence). All of our barrels are 2-3 year air-seasoned barrels and we never toast our heads- but hey, to each his own. We use predominately French Oak at a ratio of 30% new to 70% used. We do use a small amount of American Oak. And before you go presuming that French Oak is superior to American Oak- it isn’t- it just happens to work with our varietals and barrel regimen (how we first go to barrel, longevity in barrels, size of barrels, flavor and tannins we are looking for). Go team USA!
So, take away lesson, oxygen is a magical, miraculous element that helps wine become the magical, miraculous beverage that it is. And if you want anti-aging, it’s great for facials! And yeah, we kind of need it to live so we can drink wine (maybe, while we are getting a facial.)